Conditioning is not just for hair and athletes.

Diane Lynn Tibert
Conditioning is good for horses and writers.

Many times over the past twelve years, I’ve been asked, “How do you do it?”

The it referred to is the amount of words I can write in any given time frame. Usually, my answer is, “I don’t know. I just sit and write.” Or “I’m addicted to writing and easily inspired, so can’t help but write every day.”

But perhaps there is more to this answer.

On Friday night, my co-workers and I watched the wind, rain and snow storm sweep across the Atlantic Canada on the Weather Network. Supper had been busy, but as 9 o’clock neared, business dropped off; people didn’t want to leave home for a pizza. Still, the odd order came in for delivery. The driver would return, wetter than before, commenting on the wind and the rain.

We all knew the temperature was predicted to drop, and we all hoped it would wait until after we closed. But it didn’t.

Around 12:30 am, the temperature at the airport was still at 7 degrees Celsius, where it hung most of the evening. By 12:45, I noticed it had dropped a degree. By 1:00 am, it was zero. We stepped outside to check the conditions. The rain that had created large pools of water on the roadway and had gushed up through man holes had turned to snow, flying in the high winds as if late for an important dinner date.

By the time we closed around 2:20 am, the roads were covered, door knobs were frozen and white-outs lurched in the shadows created by the street lights. The 17-minute drive home on the rural roads of Nova Scotia was going to be a wee bit longer tonight.

With the cars cleaned off, and one final customer who blew in as we were locking the door served, we started our journey home. Right about now, some drivers might have been gripping the wheel with white knuckles, peering through the windshield into the dark night and wishing to be anywhere but there.

That was me last winter. But after driving through so many storms, getting home from work or getting to work, I don’t feel that way any longer. One might say I have been conditioned for the road conditions.

Instead, I settled into the driver’s seat, heard I’m a Wildflower by the Janedear Girls on the radio and turned it up. I was instantly transported to a summer’s day where I was running through wildflowers in barefeet. The snow-covered roads melted away and the white-outs conditions disappeared.

Mind over matter: if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

I put my speed on 40 km/h and by 2:50 am, I was pulling into my driveway, safe and sound with no extra worry lines.

Although skill has a lot to do with arriving home safely in a snow storm, there are many things that contribute to success: good winter tires, a well-operating vehicle, proper windshield wipers, winter boots and mitts in the back seat and a cell phone just in case.

Writing is a lot like driving in a snow storm. Some skill is needed, but other things contribute to success: a good dictionary, an eagerness to learn, a willingness to accept advice, books on various aspects of writing, keen eyes and ears, ability to wear another’s shoes, endurance, writing groups and workshops.

Not everyone begins with all these items in their tickle trunk, and for even those who do, they may not find the ability to write consistently. However, by utilizing these tools over and over again, a writer conditions himself to write more and more often. Whereas writing two hours a week may have seemed daunting, after a period of condition, a writer may write two hours a day without breaking a sweat.

Training to hike ten miles, learning to drive through snow storms and writing regularly every day is all in the condition.

“I’m glad you’re a writer,” he said.

Diane Lynn Tibert
Taking an unscheduled tour of the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park with the kids is just one advantage of working at home.

A few weeks ago, I was struggling to meet a deadline. Everyone else in the house was doing their thing: chatting, playing games or watching television. I was at the computer, forming sentences, creating paragraphs and editing to get an article completed.

The commotion in the kitchen – where my make-shift office is located – was more distracting than usual. It was a no-school day, so all the kids were home. Blocking out noise, refereeing arguments and serving meals are the disadvantage of working at home.

My kids don’t go to a babysitter’s or a daycare on a no-school day even though it’s a work day for me. They can sleep in, we can stay home and if we want, we can take a day trip to a museum, beach or visit with family. Storm days, sick days and any other stay-home day are a breeze because I’m already home. That’s the advantage of working at home.

But on this day, the day I struggled to meet a deadline with the noise level continuing to rise, working at home with kids in the house didn’t seem like an advantage at all.

For a moment, I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. I knew I’d eventually finish the article – I’d done it many times before under worse circumstances – but that day, it just seemed like more of a challenge.

That’s when my youngest, only seven years old, crawled onto my lap. He’d been bugging me earlier about finishing the back cover for the book he’d written and I thought he was going to ask about it again even though I told him I didn’t have time until later. But he didn’t. Instead, he looked at the computer and gave me a big hug. Then he looked up at me and said, “I’m glad you’re a writer.”

He gave me a sweet little smile, jumped off my lap then raced off to play with his older brother. As I watched him go, I couldn’t help but smile, too.

My energy renewed, I returned to the keyboard to finish the article. I was happy, too, that I was a writer and had a deadline to meet and that my kids were at home with me.

Feel the Music in Your Words or Rewrite Them

Diane Lynn Tibert
Get into character -- Sing that Story

Some days I feel cursed. Other days, I can’t believe I’m this lucky. As the tenth of eleven children raised by parents both born in the 1920s, I was exposed to many different genres of music. As a result, on my MP3 player, you’ll find John Denver snuggled beside Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Rod Stewart squished between Donna Fargo and Buddy Wasisname, and Anne Murray rubbing shoulders with Helix and Andy Stewart.

Music has always influenced me in one way or another. It can enhance or change my mood depending on the day and the attention I give it. The melody of a song can set a mood, but it’s the words that can make me laugh, dance or shed a tear. The degrees of these emotions depend on whether I’m listening to the song or singing along.

But let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t sing well. However, I sing often.

Hearing someone sing their heart out may not tug on your aorta, but that may change if you put their words in your mouth. Personally, I can sit and listen to Son Run to the Spring by Cal Smith and ignore the story within the melody, but I can’t sing it with a dry eye. I become that boy who must run to the spring for water while my mother spares me from witnessing her silent death due to a long term illness.

Feeling the music can only be accomplished by putting yourself in the shoes of the song’s character. That’s not to say you’re Dean Brody, standing on stage in front of thousands of fans. You are the boy who must watch your older brother go off to war and wait for him to return (Brothers) and the young man who wonders about the lives of his high school girlfriend, his college friends and the girl who gave him up for adoption (Trail of Life).

Of course, you get the good parts, too. You’re basking in the sun on the Santa Maria (Trooper) and bragging about Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me (Keith Urban).

Sure, you can just sit and listen, but you won’t feel the full effects of getting into character unless you sing those words.

Breathing life into the words you’ve written is done exactly the same way.

Before I submit anything, I always read it aloud. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 400-word blog or a 100,000-word novel, reading every word is the last step in editing. Actually, if I get stuck on a section of writing, I read it aloud. Often, it is all that’s needed to find that perfect word or the next sentence.

When I read, I take on the characteristics of the character. If I’m angry, I speak with anger. If I’m stumbling over my dialogue, then I stutter. Sometimes, I’ll use a Scottish or English accent, just to hear the story with fresh ears. It doesn’t matter if I get the accent right; the point is to make it different than how I usually speak.

Reading it aloud will point out problems in rhythm, uncover those words that sound too much alike and find words that have been accidentally left out.

In my novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, two of the main characters were Ellis and Alice. On paper, these names are easily distinguished. However, when you read them out loud in a sentence, they sound very similar – too similar for characters who will spend a lot of time together in a novel. In the end, I changed Alice’s name to Shona.

If reading your words doesn’t create the emotions you want to convey, then consider making changes. You don’t want to giggle in the middle of a tragedy and you don’t want readers to think a character is angry when he’s really trying to sweet talk his lover.

If you’ve never read your work aloud, give it a shot. Feel those words, make them yours. Guaranteed you’ll hear things from a new prospective – your character’s.